Due to the homophobia and discrimination they experience, LGBT individuals may find it difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable, to access treatment services. Substance abuse treatment programs are often not equipped to meet the needs of this population. Heterosexual treatment staff may be either uninformed about LGBT issues, insensitive to their concerns, or antagonistic toward such individuals. These attitudes may be based on misperceptions or personal beliefs. A harmful result of this insensitivity is that some professionals or other clients may falsely believe that an LGBT person’s sexual orientation/gender identity caused his or her alcohol and drug use. One’s sexual orientation/gender identity should not be viewed as in need of changing. Such factors become barriers when the LGBT population seeks access to appropriate treatment.
Some LGBT individuals may express difficulty in participating in non-LGBT focused treatment, stating that heterosexuals may not understand LGBT issues and problems. This can be problematic for the treatment staff, but it does not have to impede services. This attitude may be a defense mechanism, or the person may have experienced problems with heterosexual treatment providers in the past. Whatever the cause, it should be managed in a therapeutic manner. Encourage individuals to discuss previous experiences or why they have these feelings or attitudes toward heterosexuals. It is also important for counselors not to assume that they know why such statements are made or that they completely understand these experiences. Be sensitive to the LGBT individual’s experience and facilitate these issues within a therapeutic context.
Often negative feelings or attitudes are based on real experiences and should be acknowledged as such. Making the program accessible to the LGBT community may require some changes. Programs that use observers to administer urine screens need to consider the clients’ concerns and ask which gender observer they prefer. Staff may not know what gender the client considers herself or himself, and this could result in uncomfortable situations.
If possible, designate a separate, non-gender specific toilet and shower facility for some LGBT clients, particularly in residential treatment settings. Transgender individuals may be in the process of change or may be living as the gender opposite the one they were born with, which may result in these individuals using rest rooms different from what one would expect.
Heterosexual staff and clients should not assume that LGBT individuals are any more likely to flirt or act out sexually than their heterosexual counterparts. Rules regarding sexual interactions, flirting, and dating in treatment settings should be the same for LGBT persons as for heterosexual individuals.